Rat Creature Quiche

image of quiche

If you’ve read my review of Bone by Jeff Smith, then you know that I’m a fan. I’m also a bit of a sucker for bridging my love for one thing into my love for another.  Even before I saw a recipe for quiche in the Bone Handbook, I knew I had to make a variation of it for a Bone inspired meal.

If you’re familiar with the story then you know about the two fearsomely lovable and stupid, stupid rat creatures that repeatedly let their prey escape as they quarrel over serving them up in a quiche or a stew. Sounds a little corny, I know, but in the context of the story it’s quite hilarious.

So without further ado , I give you . . .

Rat Creature Quiche

(adapted from the Bone Handbook)

image of quiche slice1 pie crust (see below)
2 Tbs. butter, softened
5 eggs
1 c. light cream
1 c. milk
½ tsp. salt
1 scallion (or green onion), sliced
12 slices, or 1 standard size package of bacon, cooked and chopped
1 c. Jarlsberg (or Swiss) cheese, freshly grated
2 Tbs. flour
Pinch of pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Prepare pie crust (see below). Spread 2 tablespoons of butter onto the pie crust and then place in the refrigerator while you prepare the other ingredients. Whisk together the eggs, cream, milk, salt, and pepper. Stir in the grated cheese, cooked/chopped bacon, flour, and scallion. Pour into chilled pie crust and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 25 – 30 minutes or until lightly browned (another way to check for doneness – the center should be springy to the touch). Cool for 15 minutes. Slice, serve, and ENJOY!

Pie Crust

image of crust

1 ¼ c. flour
1 stick butter
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
2 – 3 Tbs. ice water

Cut butter into cubes and place in the freezer while you prepare other ingredients. Combine flour, salt, and sugar and place in food processor. Add cold butter and pulse until combined and crumbly. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing the mixture between additions, until it comes together. Dump the mixture out onto a floured surface and form into a thick disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Roll out the mixture on a floured surface until it’s a little more than a ¼ inch thick. (Note: if the disk is too hard when you first take it out of the fridge, just let it sit for a few minutes until it’s workable) Press evenly into pie dish.

Maus

maus covera graphic novel

by Art Spiegelman

Pulitzer Prize 1992

Published: 1987/2003

My Rating: 4.5/5

Maus is the affecting story of how one man, Art Spiegelman’s father (Vladek), survived the Holocaust.  What is most striking about this book is Spiegelman’s choice to portray the characters, which are obviously based on real people, as animals.  Most notably, the Jews are depicted as mice and the Nazis as cats.  The metaphor of course seems obvious; predator and prey.  The Jews were also being treated like rodents or pests that needed to be exterminated.   I also think that viewing the characters as animals helps, just a little, to detach the reader from the experience and to lessen the emotional impact of the events in the story.

maus characters

We are also told about many crucial events from Vladek’s life at the outset.  Events such as his wife’s suicide and Art’s older brother dying as a child during the war could have been much more emotional and dramatic if we had experienced them as the story unfolded rather than knowing them from the start.  I can’t help but think that this was another device to soften the blow.  As we read the story we know what’s coming, we’re expecting it, we’re prepared for it.  It seems that Spiegelman must have realized that being as it was, a horrific story about the Holocaust, there’s really no need to maximize the impact or dramatic tension.

Since Spiegelman portrays his conversations with his father in the novel, we also get a glimpse at Vladek after the war as well as insight into Spiegelman’s relationship with his father.  His position as a child of a Holocaust survivor is pretty unique; however, Spiegelman struggles with something that’s common to many of us in respect to our relationships with our parents.  Sometimes it’s hard to balance knowing and appreciating who they are, what they’ve been through, and overcome with all of their present-day idiosyncrasies, faults, and blemishes.      Spiegelman, perhaps, feels the weight of this more than most as in one panel he admits, “No matter what I accomplish, it doesn’t seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz.”  Wow.  I’m glad that Spiegelman told not just his father’s story but also his own.  He gives attention to so many collateral issues that could easily be forgotten or left out when talking about something as magnanimous as the Holocaust.

My only gripe about the book is that sometimes the illustrations were not wholly necessary.  What I mean is, at times you could easily just read the words and barely glance at the drawings.  There’s a great scene in book 2 where Art is confronting reporters and publicists after Maus becomes a success.  In each panel, he gets a little smaller and smaller until he’s so little that his feet don’t even reach the edge of his seat.  He doesn’t have to tell us that under the weight of all the pressure, he was reduced to feeling like a child.    I wish there had been more things like that throughout the story.

Here’s another great image, which also serves as forshadowing:

panel image

Maus is harrowing but it is an incredible book. I would especially recommend it to anyone who feels that you can’t tell a serious story through a graphic novel or that graphic novels shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Graphic Novel Review: Bone by Jeff Smith

image of bone charactersa graphic novel series

By Jeff Smith

My Rating: ***** 5/5

Bone is a blend of epic fantasy, mythology, origins, legends, villains, and heroes.  After being thrown out of Boneville the characters find themselves thrown into a quest to prevent the end of the world as they know it.  (For a more detailed introduction to Bone and the characters see my last post.) At first glance Bone may seem to just be a silly kid’s story but the undercurrent of Bone is meaty and substantial.  The writing is wonderful and while there are winks and nods at other stories and characters, Bone remains quite original.

What made this series so fantastic to me is pretty much what makes or breaks every story – the characters.  The three Bone cousins are hopelessly flawed and incredibly endearing.  They each have their own original stamp in the storyline and while their personalities are strong and original, they all at some point add humor, heart, and even a little heartache to the plot.  The supporting cast is equally interesting and perhaps even more complex  and enigmatic than the Bone cousins.

Jeff Smith does a superb job of blending humor and suspense.  The first few volumes of the series certainly have a more lighthearted, humorous feel than the last few, however, even in the direst situations, there are some genuinely funny moments.  Even the monsters pepper the story with humor, such as the two “stupid rat creatures” that let their prey escape because they’re too busy arguing over whether to serve them up in a quiche or a stew.  Whether humorous or ominous, the dialogue is always sharp and clever.

image of page about rat creatures

The characters are further propelled by their expressiveness.  I was continually amazed at how such plain creatures as the Bones could have such incredible variety in their facial expressions and body language.  Take this example from Volume 7 (page 103):

bone cousins Can’t you just imagine what each of these little guys are thinking?  Yes, they all look forlorn but there is just the subtlest variation in each of their expressions that tells you that each of them is thinking something just a little bit different.

Some of Fone Bone’s expressions are truly heartbreaking, particularly in scenes where he’s concerned about Thorn.

Just like the dialogue, the plot is also tightly woven.  In an interview Jeff Smith said that he drew the last page first, which was first penned in 1989 and it appears in the story today exactly as it did then.  Since he knew the end that he was working towards, Smith said that he tried to ensure that every issue served some purpose in enhancing the plot or building the characters.  What results is a compact storyline without a lot of superfluous fluff.  There are really no “diversions” in Bone, everything is important in some way.

The build-up of the story, the characters, and the suspense are all remarkably well done.  We don’t know too much too soon, which would have destroyed the suspense, but rather we are fed new little bits of information at just the proper time, so that we are also never completely in the dark.  The dialogue, the events, and the action feel well paced and timed.  However, I did think that the ending was a little too clean and rushed.  Some of the dramatic tension faded in the final moments as threads of the story that had been growing and expanding from the beginning were tied off a little too quickly.  That’s really my only complaint.  I could have stood maybe one more chapter or even one more volume to give a little more weight to the resolution.

I can imagine reading Bone again and again.  In fact, as soon as I finished the last volume, I picked up other volumes that were sitting around the house and started reading them at random.  After my admission of night giggles in my last post about Bone, I guess I don’t really need to put in another plug for the humor in these books, but let me just say that I laughed just as hard the second time around.

There’s so much more to this series than meets the eye.  These aren’t just sweet little kid’s stories, well actually some of them are, but Bone has a lot on its plate.  There’s a lot to chew on and digest if you take the time to look for it.

Note: I should also note that I highly recommend the colorized version published by Scholastic.  The complete edition is the more economic choice but is entirely in black and white.  While Smith did an amazing job with the black and white, I feel that the color really adds to the experience.

Bone: Volumes 1 – 3

book imageBy Jeff Smith

Published: Bone originated as a comic book series in 1991.  The volumes that I’m reading were released in 2005 and 2006.

My Rating: ***** 5/5

Bone is an adventure story about three cousins who are thrown out of their town, Boneville, into a land strange and unusual to them.

Let’s meet this imperfectly lovable cast of characters . . .

image of fone bone

Fone Bone - He's the most intelligent one of the bunch.

image of phoney bone

Phoney Bone - An ornery, scheming, but not unlikable, opportunist.

image of smiley bone

Finally, there's Smiley Bone, the good-hearted fool, carefree and blissfully unaware.

In their quest to return home, the Bone cousins become separated and briefly embark on their own little adventures, each meeting different characters along the way.  Eventually, they pair up with some residents of the valley – the mysterious Granma Ben who can run 50 miles at once without breaking a sweat and who seems to know more than she lets on – and the lovely young farm girl, Thorn, on whom Fone Bone develops an adorable crush.  Without revealing too much of the plot, which is better experienced than described, let me just say that in the first three volumes of Bone you will hear of tales of dragons, strange hooded masters, interpretive dreams, rat monsters, great wars, obscure maps, and on the lighter side, spring fairs, cow races, and ridiculously silly love poems.  Now how could you resist a story that manages to churn out all that?

Not to mention comedy!  This book had me laughing out loud!  The humor is imaginative, well-timed, and memorable.  The night after starting the first volume, I was laying in bed trying to go to sleep; all was quiet and peaceful – the crickets chirping in the still night air, the only sound was the hum of the air conditioner (you get the picture) and darn it if something funny from BONE didn’t pop into my head and cause me to burst into a fit of child-like giggles.  As soon as I would calm myself some other little snippet would float into my head and provoke yet another eruption of giggles.  My husband, who was sick with bronchitis and a terrible headache, would meagerly ask through the cold wash cloth covering his head, “What was that one about?” And I’d relate all the details of whatever little scene had caused my most recent outburst.

I don’t know, maybe I just have a childish sense of humor.  However, I think that BONE is simple without being simplistic.  Sure, it’s a story written for children but Jeff Smith has achieved that multi-level, Pixar-like humor that children can enjoy and find humorous on one level and adults on another.  While simple, it’s also sharp and smart.

Even in the first installment, the characters are well fleshed out, each with their own unique personalities shining through.  I sort of imagined Phoney Bone sounding like Vizzini from The Princess Bride (You remember him, right?  Inconceivable! ).  I could just imagine Phoney’s puny little self cockily marching up to Andre the Giant, meeting him at the shins, and threatening to send him back to Greeenlaand.  Speaking of The Princess Bride, the rat creatures also reminded me of a cartoon version of the rodents of unusual size.  And the rat creatures are super!  Even these fearsome monsters have their quirky little personas, and when we get a glimpse of them when they’re not trying to be fearsome, they too are quite hilarious.

I was beginning to wonder if Granma Ben was ever going to open her eyes . . .

image of granma ben

. . . And then she did . . .

granma ben's eyes

That eye-opening moment in Volume 3 marks a turning point in the lighthearted tone of the story.  We still experience the gaffes and blunders that follow Smiley and Phoney, but the tone becomes more ominous and the mystery deepens.

***

I’m patiently waiting for 4 – 6 to arrive in the mail.  It’s available in one complete volume; however, I opted to go with the colorized editions which are only published by Scholastic in nine single volumes.  It’s not the most economic choice but I think the color is worth it.  Just my luck, they’ll probably publish a single colorized edition once I have the complete set!

Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days

book imagea graphic novel

by Brian Vaughan

Published: 2005

My Rating: *** 3/5

Reviewing one volume in a graphic novel series is problematic for me as it’s just one slice of the story.  While a literary novel in a series may stand on it’s own, in my experience a single volume in a graphic novel series often does not.   After typing my thoughts, I realize that mostly I just compared my reading experience to Y: The Last Man, another Brian Vaughan series that I read two years ago.

Ex Machina is about a man who acquires superpowers (i.e. he can communicate with machines) after a mysterious incident on a boat in the Hudson River.  He later renounces superhero life so he can run for mayor of New York City, moving from directly saving people’s lives to struggling with public image.

It seems that Vaughan likes to grapple with real world issues in alternate reality settings.  Those settings and the characters are just real enough so that the message still emerges and doesn’t get muddled in the implausibility.  The Last Man explored issues surrounding gender while Ex Machina appears to be plunging into politics.

The protagonist in Ex Machina, Mitchell Hundred, is not quite as likable or resonant as Y’s Yorick.  I haven’t yet figured out yet if I want to root for Hundred, as it’s unclear at this point whether or not he’s well intentioned.  The dialogue is good, but again, not as quick and witty as it was in The Last Man.

I hate to keep making comparisons but this volume was also not quite as gripping as when I read the first installment of Y.  I finished Vol. 1 of Y while dinner was in the oven and promptly scarfed down my meal, raced out to the store to buy Vol. 2, and finished it the same night.  With that said, Ex Machina has enough intrigue to compel me to continue on with the series, even if not with the same sense of urgency.

Jimmy Corrigan

book imagea graphic novel

by Chris Ware

Published: 1999

My Rating:  ***** 5/5

Jimmy Corrigan is a self-conscious, mother-pleasing, middle-aged man who is still encased in the unshed angst of a teenager.  After getting an invitation to visit his father, whom he’s never met, he sets off on what becomes quite a little adventure compared to his uneventful life.  That’s Jimmy Corrigan, the character, in a nutshell.  But Jimmy Corrigan, the book, is so much more.

Every time Miguel would look to see what page I was on, he’d declare, “You’re reading it too fast!”  Indeed, with so much visual richness, it’s not a book to be rushed through, but experienced.  If I was reading fast it’s only because I couldn’t put it down once I started.

I’ve heard Jimmy Corrigan described as a miserable and pathetic loser.  While most would agree that he is sad, it’s interesting to note that there’s very little self-pity in Corrigan’s character.  He doesn’t protest his lot in life, he rarely complains or grumbles.  Even in the images of his private world and thoughts, there are no blatant confessions of unhappiness.   And there’s something very endearing, innocent, and sweet about Jimmy.  There were times when I just wanted to pick him up and squeeze him and tell him that everything’s alright.  Unlike so many other angst-ridden characters, it’s not difficult to empathize with Jimmy.

The drawings and layout of this graphic novel border on being downright cinematic.  At times, it’s like looking at a flip book, only in slow motion and with dialogue.  Admittedly, I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to graphic novels, but I’ve never read one that conveys a better sense of time and movement.

The landscape is impressive.  The setting superbly reflects the melancholy alienation of the characters.  There’s a particularly affecting set of images that contain, among other things, a silhouette of the McDonald’s arches.  Someone once described such establishments to me as “islands in a sea of asphalt.”  The characters themselves are, in a way, like islands.

Ware also sets the stage for certain scenes with wordless pages which are so artfully done that you can sense what the air feels like, smells like, sounds like, all of which enhances your emotional connection to the scene.  Throughout the novel, some panels are wildly detailed while others are minimalistic.   Ware seems to know just how many and which specific details will best match the mood of the moment.

Thought and emotion is masterfully conveyed by flashing back and forth between imagination and reality in a way that feels realistic and believable.  There are also several parallel storylines in addition to extended daydreams and all the different threads overlap and connect together magnificently.

book image

One of the things that I value most in a writer is their ability to tell you without telling you. This book just might be my new favorite example of that.  Once you’ve put the pieces together it gives you a sense of mind-blowing accomplishment, as though you’ve just solved a riddle.  That leads me to perhaps my favorite thing about this book.  It demands something of you.  This is not a book for passive readers who want all the conclusions and meanings spelled out for them.  This book asks that you, as the reader, reach between the layers to uncover the significance of events, to experience the irony, to complete the puzzle.

Jimmy Corrigan is an artfully interwoven tapestry of realism, fantasy, and flashback.  Ware is an inventive storyteller and his delivery is intelligent.

It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken

book imageby Seth

Genre: Graphic Novel

Published: 1993

My Rating: **** 4/5

It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken is about a man who feels a little out of place in our modern, fast-paced world and who longs for a less complicated time.  Seth’s captivation with the charm of the past makes is difficult for him to find contentment and happiness in the present.  He finds a kindred spirit in a lesser known comic book artist from the 1940s.   The story then becomes a mini-journey of Seth’s endeavors to find out more information about him.

The simplicity of the images mirrors Seth’s longing for a simpler time and the color scheme winks at the bleak tone of the story.  It didn’t bother me that there wasn’t a great deal of substance or that the story lacked a strong, clear resolution.  That just added to the sense of realism and the honesty.  It’s not a riveting story, nor is it life shaking, but it wasn’t intended to be.  Its value is in its minimalism and its plainness.  It has an unobtrusive quality that I find endearing.